Skin Care

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Broadway and Fifty-first. December gloaming. A neon glare spills out of a boutique, brilliant cube, door open to the street, from which a black-clad figure darts and pounces. Lithe, lightly bearded, younger than my son, and standing at my shoulder before I reach the corner (I’m abstracted, waiting for the light), insinuatingly with serpent tongue he purrs “May I ask you a question? What kind of product do you use on your skin?” With which magic words, this messenger (an angel, but what kind of angel is he?) lures me into his realm. He has been trained to recognize the signs: I’m tired and hungry and preoccupied. I’m aging, parched; I’m turning to a mummy. In a flash he has me where he wants me, seated in his white box, my coat still on. Piercing light and an alarming mirror magnify each pore and fleck and vein: blue cords, brown freckles floating in skim milk.

When Prince Gautama ventured from his palace and saw for the first time an old man and a sick man and a corpse, it was in some such mortal glare as now exposes me. To justify this shipwreck, It isn’t just a matter of my failure to apply proper product to my skin; it’s years, dark angel, I could say to him. It’s mortality. The brilliant salesman, perched at my shoulder, is still murmuring. I have nothing more to say about my skin. Neither does he. He has me; we both know it. I pay for two pots of miraculous moon-white cream, two gleaming silver vials nested in black boxes. Gift for whom? From me to me? Not me from my beloved, who never says a word about dry skin, for whom alone I feel beautiful, whose gaze is no cruel magnifying mirror but source of heat as generous as the sun. I have escaped, and now I’m heading home. Shoppers hurry north and south on Broadway. Twilit sky: deep blue, now stitched with lights. Almost the solstice, after which the earth will stretch her winter bones, moisten her skin, and open into spring.